One Of The US' Most Underrated Vacation Spots Is Full Of Beautiful, Trendy College Towns

If you're visiting Massachusetts, you're probably making a beeline for historic Boston or the Cape Cod area with the luxurious vacation spots of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard (bizarrely, Martha's Vineyard is where parts of "Jaws" were filmed). But next time you're exploring The Bay State, we recommend you turn away from the coast and go inland. In Western Massachusetts, you'll find one of the most underrated vacation spots in the U.S.

The Pioneer Valley is less than a two-hour drive from Boston, and it's home to five colleges across three beautiful college towns. There's Smith College in Northampton, the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College and Amherst College in buzzing Amherst, and finally Mount Holyoke College in the more rural South Hadley. With so many students crammed into a small area, the Pioneer Valley pulses with life. You can visit excellent (often free) museums and galleries, enjoy casual live music venues, and easily access the outdoors. Whatever you're into and whoever you're traveling with, the Pioneer Valley should be on your list as your next vacation spot.

Exploring the Pioneer Valley's college towns

Amherst is the largest of the three towns and has many things to do. If you're into history, visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in the homestead where the poet was born, or check out the Beneski Museum of Natural History on the Amherst College campus where you can see the skeletons of dinosaurs and a mammoth. Outdoors, you can pick up fresh, local food at the weekly farmers' markets or head to Puffer's Pond near the UMass campus for a dip. In the evening, don't miss The Drake, a legendary music venue that also hosts comedy shows, dance nights, and more. 

Northampton is just a 15-minute drive away from Amherst. The town's most famous attraction is the Academy of Music, a renowned performance venue with a history dating back to the 19th century. Take advantage of the free entry at the Smith College Museum of Art, which houses works by Monet and Picasso, and then wander through the college's Botanic Garden, also free for all, making Northampton a budget-friendly New England destination. You can end the night at the Parlor Room, a live music locale with a bring-your-own booze and picnic policy that at least one Google reviewer called a "wonderful intimate venue."

Finally, drive to South Hadley and enjoy the gorgeous campus at Mount Holyoke College. The college's miles of trails and lush Botanic Garden are open for everyone to explore. To relax indoors, visit Thirsty Mind Coffee & Wine Bar, which offers second-hand books, live music, and tasty drinks. 

Getting out and about in Pioneer Valley

Once you've soaked up the atmosphere of Pioneer Valley's college towns, it's time to discover more of the area. To learn more about the history of Western Massachusetts, we recommend visiting Historic Deerfield, a 30-minute drive north of Amherst. At this outdoor museum, you can visit 12 New England buildings dating from 1730 to 1850 and get a fascinating insight into what life was like back then.

A little way north of Mount Holyoke College, you'll find Mount Holyoke itself in Skinner State Park. You can drive or hike to the top of Mount Holyoke for spectacular views of the countryside. AllTrails users find the hike pretty steep but not overly challenging. If you want to extend your stay in Western Massachusetts, consider continuing west and visiting the Berkshires, which we think is the perfect mountainside getaway for a cozy couples vacation. Just an hour and a half from Amherst, you'll find yourself in ski resorts like Jiminy Peak or Ski Butternut, making the area perfect for a winter vacation.

But we all know that New England is a prime fall destination, and Massachusetts is a classic place to enjoy foliage and small-town charm. In the Pioneer Valley, the college campuses are gorgeous places to take in the fall colors, and Country Living (via MassLive) named the whole valley as its number one place to enjoy the foliage in 2023. Whatever the season, Pioneer Valley is enchanting.